The Creation account in Genesis is probably one of the most beautiful, controversial, and intriguing passages of any text of all time. There is so much in the Creation account that we could spend our entire lives discussing and asking questions about how and why God did what He did. To some, it is just a story, for others it is the beginning. For Christians, the Creation account is so important and it is full of beauty and goodness and life. We are going to revisit the Creation account and just look at the first chapter in Genesis to capture as much as we can from the Creation account. We are going to look at the details and spend our time discovering the story God is trying to tell us. So let us begin. Let’s go back to the beginning.
The First Day
A Translation Issue
Right from the beginning, we can begin to develop a huge misunderstanding about the creation itself if we have certain ideas about what the creation story is. If we think of the creation account in Genesis 1 as God’s scientific notebook about how He created all things, we will be sadly disappointed. For one, there is no scientific descriptions about how God made the land or water or animals, or even us. God speaks and God does in Genesis 1 and that’s about the extent of what we know. The creation account is not there to give us descriptions of how God made everything, but rather why He created all things. Genesis 1 is a narrative, almost poetic in its nature to describe this Almighty God who created everything as we know it. We might also see “mistakes” in Genesis 1 looking at it from a scientific view but we must take into consideration who is writing it. Ancient Hebrew authors wrote the Old Testament and that includes Genesis 1. They did not have the science and technology we have today and so they had a different view of the world and really a more basic view of how the world came to be and is. This does not indicate God’s word is wrong because again, it is not a description of the processes of which God used to make the universe. Rather, it is a poetic narrative used to capture your attention and stimulate your imagination as you imagine your Creator creating all things.
One of the first issue we run into when looking at Genesis 1:1 is that it doesn’t say what it actually says. What I mean is that in the original Hebrew language, it does not directly correlate to “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. In Hebrew, what it says is “When God began to create heaven and earth…”. This is much different than what we read in our english translations and a lot can be taken from it. To understand the beginning of the Bible, we must understand in Hebrew what “beginning” means. You see, when we think of the beginning of something, we think of it as a point in time in which it didn’t exist or happen before that point in time and then it had a beginning and now it is here. But that is not how the Hebrew authors thought of the creation of the world. The word “beginning” used here is not the same as our english word “beginning”. The Hebrew word used here is “reshith” and it is very broad and non-specific in it’s meaning. It basically means “before now” or “way back then”. The Hebrew authors do not give us a specific moment in time in which God brought all things into existence, they just say it was before their point in existence.
This phrase simply means “out of nothing”. It is thrown around so many times in debates and discussions about the creation account from Genesis. Essentially, the argument is that God created something out of nothing, or that God created all things out of nothing. We think of it as there was nothing, except God, and then he created the heavens and the earth. However, I want to point out something that is often never taken note of. The one writing Genesis, the author of the first book of the Bible, didn’t have that view. In fact, most ancient cultures didn’t have an idea of nothing, There was no category for nothing to exist. To them, and we’ll get to this later, it began as chaos. To them, way back when, God brought order out of the chaos and so there was never nothing in their worldview. They never really thought about what was before, just that God made everything and here we are. But the idea of “out of nothing” can become confusing to us, so let’s see if we can sort out what is being created when God creates things out of nothing.
Time from a philosophical view
What happened when God created the heavens and the earth? One aspect of creation, was the creation of time. This can get quite confusing and a question can arise from this thought. How can God exist before time? If time marks the beginning, how can there be anything before the beginning? This is a question that confuses many and many use it to disprove the existence of God, but it can also be used to prove His existence. Let’s think about time for a moment. What can time be defined as? Well we can think of time in three separate, yet continuous, divisions. There is a past, a present, and a future. Perhaps these three divisions reflect the Trinity of God in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But when it comes to God, there are at least two views on this subject of time in relation to God Himself. The two views we are going to discuss are:
Temporal and Timeless
In the temporal view we see God as being bound by time, or inside of time itself. If God is temporal, He has a past, present, and future but it also means that He has a beginning and an end. In this view, there is no way God could have created everything in the beginning because He would be bounded by time itself and would have had a beginning after time was created.
The other view, however, is that God is timeless, meaning that God transcends time and has no past, present, or future. In other words, God is actually “outside” the realm of time which would verify the fact that He transcends time. This means that God could in fact have created everything before the beginning because He has no beginning and He created the beginning of time. This seems to be the most biblically accurate (Psalm 90:2, Isaiah 40:28).
This is beyond our understanding of time. We humans think about everything having a beginning and anything without a beginning is simply too hard to grasp. This is what makes God incomprehensible. To some, it is the point in which they reject. But to those who believe, it gives hope and awe for a God who can do all things. This is important in understanding our role in relation to God’s role. Since God is eternal or timeless, and we as humans are temporal or temporary, this means that God is Sovereign Lord and always will be. We as humans, as we will see later, were made by an eternal God who did not need us, but wanted us. He wanted to establish a relationship with us and that is beyond comprehension. But let’s get back to the beginning. So God created time in the beginning along with the “heavens and the earth”. This is when time began. God had always been but it was at that point in which time began as we think about it on planet earth.
“God” In Hebrew
The next word we see in the first sentence of the Bible is “God” and what follows is the creation of the heavens and earth which we will discuss in just a moment. But this word “God” is interesting in the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis 1:1, the word for “God” is “Elohim” in Hebrew. “Elohim” is a plural form of the word “El” in Hebrew which can refer to any deity and in this case the Deity of God. So when this word “Elohim” is used, it would be like saying the God of Israel is the God of all other elohim or “gods”. When the ancient Hebrews would use this term “Elohim”, they were saying that God is the chief Elohim, there is no God above Yahweh. What is interesting is that right after this plural word for God is used, a singular verb comes after which is the word “created”, indicating the true unity in God’s nature.
Space & Matter
The next words of our sentence are “created the heavens and the earth”. This is space and matter coming into existence being created by an eternal God who has always been. This is the creation of spacetime as many think about it today. The word “heavens” used here is an interesting one. It comes from the Hebrew word, “shamayim”, which can be used to refer to the sky. We now know that when we look at the sky it is not flat, but three-dimensional. We are looking into space. It was here, that God created space and time at the same moment. Space, as we know it, is three-dimensional. It has width, length, and height. Again, this could be a reflection of God’s divine Triune identity. We see in this sentence that God created the heavens, which most likely means the universe, or space itself. It also means that God created space in a three dimensional form to be able to create all of these stars and galaxies. So not only did God create all of the beautiful things we can and can’t see with our eyes, but He also had to create a space to put them. This is what is being described here. God created the literal 3D space we know of to create the earth. It is odd to think about not having space. This means nothing at all would have existed before this moment. But one might ask about God. Where was God if there was no space? The way we think about space is three-dimensional. It is hard for us to comprehend any other form of space, but perhaps God was in “Godspace”. This is a term used to describe God in a fourth dimension or something like it. The point is that God was in His own space before He created all the 3-D space we know and live in today. In conclusion, time was created in the beginning, “heavens” declares the creation of space, and the earth was the creation of matter.
The Hebrew authors thought of the earth and the heavens a little differently than we do today, however. To them, when they think of God creating the heavens and earth, they think of it as God creating what’s down here and what’s up there. The earth to them was not a globe but it was where they were at, what they were standing on. The heavens were where God resided, above the “sky dome”. So in a basic sense, they would have seen the creation of the world as, “Way back then, God created what’s down here and what’s up there”. It is basic but yet full of truth. The ancient Israelites had a different perspective on the world than we do today. For more information on what this worldview was, I encourage you to check out this article by Tim Mackie from The Bible Project. He does a good job explaining the ancient worldview of the Israelites.
This always begs the question, “Is space never ending?”. The simplest answer we can give is that we really don’t know for sure and probably never will. The important idea to remember is that God created everything and out of all His creation, He loves us. Then the sentence mentions the earth, which is the same earth you and I are on right now. What is interesting is that this planet is mentioned separately from all the other stuff in space or the “heavens”. The rest of the creation story, and the rest of the Bible, focus on this element of creation. Everything else created in the rest of this story is connected directly to earth and its inhabitants. This is so interesting to think about. Out of all the space and matter He created, it is this relatively small spherical mass that God becomes so enthralled with and gives all his attention to. This is where we begin to see God’s love for us, right here, in the beginning.
A formless, empty earth
The next sentence that follows is verse 2, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” There is so much here. So right away we see this description of the earth God has just made and the NIV translates it as formless and empty. The Hebrew word for formless here is translated as “tohu” which means “to lie in waste” or “desolation”. The Hebrew word for empty here means “to be empty”, meaning there are no inhabitants. The phrase that occurs here is “tohu va-vohu” which can be best translated as “wild and waste” or uninhabitable. You get this picture of this desolate and wild place where no life exists. Let us also remember that no light exists at this point, at least the way we think about light, There is no light at this point. Just darkness and chaos. This scene is described in Job 38:9, “When I made a cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,”. It was just darkness. The word for “deep” is translated “tehom” which means “an abyss”. In other words, a deep place and can be used to reference the ocean. In Hebrew, it also comes from a root word meaning confusion or chaos. This most likely is referring to the surface of the ocean or the surface of the earth itself. We get this image of a howling wasteland that is desolate and dark and chaotic. However, even in this dark, hopeless scene, we see hope. The hope is the Spirit of God that hovers over the waters.
Spirit of God
This Spirit of God is so important to the story. Now we see God being directly involved in creation (although He already has been) as His Spirit is in the presence of the earth itself. Following will be God speaking things into existence and the Spirit working. This word “Spirit” in Hebrew is very interesting as well. It is translated “ruach”, which is to say “breath”, “spirit” or “wind”. So literally this is the “breath of God” or the “Spirit” of God. It is the Holy Spirit we see right from the beginning being involved in creation itself. Psalm 33:6 also tells us this. We also see the Spirit hovering or moving above the waters. The word used to describe “waters” here basically means “water” or some type of liquid like water. It is more likely that God created water here but that is all there is at this time. It is also interesting to think about if the darkness was over the deep, or the “waters”, and the Spirit was over the waters, perhaps the Spirit and darkness were covering the earth and therefore existing together. Another theory could be that darkness was over the surface of the earth but the Spirit was above the surface over the waters, meaning that the waters weren’t necessarily on the earth, just above the surface. As we will see, God made a vault between the waters on the earth and the waters above “clouds, atmosphere, etc), and He called it “sky”. Therefore, it could mean that the waters weren’t necessarily on the earth in oceans yet but were simply around the earth, letting the Spirit be above them. In this scenario, we have the Spirit over the darkness. This is all speculation of course and it is hard to say for sure, but what we do know is that God was involved in every step of creation and He created all things.